Hughes raises more than $500,000 ahead of expected gubernatorial run

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Former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes has raised more than half a million dollars for an anticipated gubernatorial run next year, and he hasn’t even announced yet.

Hughes believes he has more campaign cash on hand — $444,000 — than any other candidate, announced or not.

The Hughes Leadership PAC, following Utah law, had to file an updated financial report Sept. 30 with the Utah Elections Office.

And that report shows that since last spring — when Hughes started cashing checks to the PAC — he’s raised around $522,000 (including $58,000 in-kind donations).

Meanwhile, an updated check-cashing report by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has already set up a campaign account and has been running for months now, shows $415,250 in fundraising.

Because Hughes’ account is a PAC, it has to have detailed donations and expenditures reported several times a year. Cox’s is a campaign account, and under Utah law doesn’t have to list expenditures and cash on hand until year’s end.

In any case, Hughes, who has not announced yet and so doesn’t have to organize a campaign account, has clearly been hitting the fundraising hard.

“I need to show I’m a viable candidate,” Hughes told Monday night. And fundraising is part of that.

Hughes, who has a successful apartment management/ownership firm, doesn’t have the personal financial means of some other potential GOP candidates — like former Gov. Jon Huntsman, tech millionaire Jeff Burningham, and financier Spencer Eccles.

“So, I have to show I have the ability to raise some money,” Hughes said. He believes his latest PAC filing proves he can do that.

Gov. Gary Herbert is not seeking re-election next year. Utah Republicans interested in being governor have an open seat — which happens around every decade or so.

It will be a crowded Republican field, said Hughes, with a number of good candidates. Utah has not elected a Democrat governor since 1980 — and 2020 looks to keep up the GOP trend.

Herbert is clearly backing Cox, whom he picked as his second-in-command several years ago. Herbert has given Cox $50,000 from his own PAC. And according to Hughes, Herbert is making calls to Republican big-hitters asking them to support Cox.

But Hughes has some well-known Utahns in his corner as well, beginning with House Majority Whip Mike Schultz, R-Hooper.

A successful homebuilder, Schultz has given Hughes $125,000 so far, $100,000 in the new PAC filing.

“Obviously, Mike is a good, good friend — as well as a great legislator,” said Hughes, who appointed Schultz, when he was just a freshman, to the powerful House Rules Committee several years ago, an almost unheard-of appointment for a newcomer to the 75 member House.

Current House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, gave Hughes $15,000 and House Majority Leader Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, $2,500.

Hughes said his $522,000 fundraising in just a couple of months, “Shows I have the chops to be in this race” with other GOP gubernatorial contenders.

Cox has had a paid staff for months now and is traveling the state this summer and fall in his attempt to visit all 241 cities and towns.

Cox put $100,000 into his campaign from his old lieutenant governor campaign account and combined with Herbert’s $50,000 makeup 36 percent of Cox’s overall fundraising.

Cox’s reports show he has a plethora of small donations as well, part of his $20.20 donations for 2020 campaign.

Hughes has put off making a formal campaign announcement. He told last summer that he would likely announce in the early fall — or around this time.

But Monday night he said it most likely will be in December. “I’m looking at a window,” which ends in early January when candidates taking the signature-gathering route under SB54 can pick up their signature packets from the Utah Elections Office.

It will take 28,000 voter signatures for any statewide candidate to get on their party’s June primary ballot — and most serious gubernatorial candidates will take that route next year.

By that January deadline, “serious” candidates will have to have campaign staff hired, said Hughes, and have a strategy worked out.

“I don’t know” if Huntsman, who resigned his office in 2009 to become ambassador to China (making Herbert governor), “will run next year, but I anticipate he will,” said Hughes.

Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kay, will return to Utah soon — maybe even this week — as he has announced his resignation for Oct. 3 from being ambassador to Russia.

“I have around $440,000 in cash,” said Hughes, more, he guesses, than Cox or any other serious candidate for governor yet unannounced.

And while money is not, of course, the most important part of the campaign next year — being a winnable candidate and leader is — Hughes says he believes he’s making a good start.